science center in the news

Why the money isn't the best part of University City Science Center incubator's SBA award

September 7, 2016  |  Philadelphia Business Journal

 The University City Science Center’s new Phase 1 Ventures incubator recently landed $50,000 as part of a Small Business Administration accelerator competition, but it’s not the dollar figure that made Christopher Laing’s day.

 

“More importantly for us, this is great recognition for the program,” said Laing, the Science Center’s vice president of science and technology.

 

The incubator — which focuses on long-term growth projects centered on biotech, pharmaceuticals, health care, energy and medical technologies — was joined by Carlisle-based FranklinTechcelerator as two Pennsylvania-based incubators that secured the award, part of $3.4 million doled out to 68 accelerators as part of the SBA’s Growth Accelerator Competition.

 

The competition stems from a partnership the SBA launched with the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education in 2014 to bolster connections between small businesses and entrepreneurs, boost job growth and encourage innovation in areas where entrepreneurism is in need of greater support.

 

The involvement of the NIH is of particular importance to Phase 1, given its area of expertise.

“That fits very nicely with our goals for this program,” said Laing.

 

The award won't go to one startup in particular, he said, but will be focused on projects that are particularly relevant to the NIH. Its companies cover a varying array of efforts, from developing drugs to treat Parkinson's disease to creating new types of rechargeable batteries.

 

“It’s a wide range, and that’s actually what’s been exciting about the program, the diversity that we’re seeing,” Laing said.

 

Phase 1 had a soft opening in 2014 with funding from a $1 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Association and ran as a pilot they figured out what worked, what didn’t, and made changes along the way, he said. It officially launched early this year.

 

“We want to experiment just as much as our participants do when looking at the best possible ways to create mechanisms for innovation,” Laing said. “We never see the process as locked and completely finished. We’re looking at ways to improve it.”

 

A main goal for Phase 1 is to ramp up its engagement with the community as well as bolster its base of enterprise experts to inject its startups with real-world experience and guidance.

 

The ability to do just that and get in front of the public eye is another aspect of the SBA award that has Laing excited.

 

“We want to use it as a way of expanding the dialogue about the program,” he said, adding they’d like to include more federal agencies, universities and other participants into the conversation.

 

In the previous two years combined, 138 accelerators landed the $50,000 prize. The SBA said the awards have funded 5,000 companies that have raised more than $1.5 billion in capital and created more than 20,000 jobs.

 

“SBA will continue to explore ways to creatively harness this powerful network and connect startups with one another and with available government resources,” said SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet in a statement. “With the addition of the 2016 winners, the number of SBA supported entrepreneurs will significantly grow.”